Doll Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease: Pros and Cons


We probably get more feedback from customers concerning doll therapy for Alzheimer’s disease (and doll therapy for dementia) than any other category of care. Some of that feedback is quoted within this article.

Doll therapy for Alzheimer's disease| Elaine's mother and her baby doll Eva.

Eva with her new “parents”.

I was speaking to my parents today, and my Mom went on about how much she loves her Doll (Luca). Her new name is Eva, my Mom’s second name. My Dad is totally amazed about the joy it is bringing my Mom. She takes it visiting in the community and lives to change her outfits. Eva is truly a blessing. Thank you so much. And, please thank the person who did such a beautiful job of creating such a wonderful doll that is so life like.
~ Elaine – Alberta, Canada

Doll Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease

Anyone who has seen it happen knows that a doll has the power to soothe and comfort people with Alzheimer’s disease. Formal investigation of the effects that dolls can have on people who have Alzheimer’s disease is in the early stages, but talk to caregivers who have participated in doll therapy for dementia and most of them will speak positively about the experience. Dolls have been shown repeatedly to soothe and comfort people with Alzheimer’s. Although it can be discomforting to see an adult hold a doll, we need to acknowledge the benefit that doll therapy can provide.


Doll Therapy Research

Much of the research involving doll therapy for Alzheimer’s disease has been carried out at Newcastle General Hospital in England and in care facilities in the area of Newcastle. Clinical Psychologist Ian James and nursing specialist Lorna Mackenzie, with others, reported significant improvement in the behavior of nursing home residents with dementia when dolls were introduced to the residents as a choice.
Various studies done by this group, all observing the effect of baby doll therapy on people with dementia, all reached similar conclusions. The most recent, Using dolls to alter behavior in patients with dementia, Nursing Times VOL: 103, ISSUE: 5, PAGE NO: 36-37, (a British journal, which explains the funny spelling) summed it up like this:

The results of the study provide support for the hypotheses that after the introduction of dolls, doll-users showed an increase in positive behaviour and a decrease in negative behaviour and incidents of aggression compared with before the dolls were introduced. These results support previous attitudinal studies, which have reported doll therapy to be an effective approach in reducing negative and challenging behaviours, and promoting more positive behaviours and mood.

These conclusions are in agreement with so much anecdotal evidence reported by caregivers that credit doll therapy with increasing quality of life for people with dementia. Some have even reported that they were able to reduce medications  as a direct result of doll therapy.

Doll Therapy for Alzheimer's | Lifelike dolls from Best Alzheimer's Products

The Ultimate in Doll Therapy
Serenity Babies promise to take doll therapy to the next level. These extremely lifelike dolls are handmade by craftsmen using only the finest materials. Each doll is made individually, by hand, so every doll is unique.

Another interesting and significant observation reported in these studies involves caregiver reaction to the introduction of dolls to the care environment. All of the caregivers in the facility were given surveys before and after the study. Although nine of the 46 staff members voiced some initial concern, mostly centering on the idea that the dolls would be ‘babyish’, ‘ totally demeaning’, ‘ patronizing’, or otherwise ‘inappropriate’. In the interview that followed the conclusion of the study, only one caregiver retained this concern. All of the others “felt that there were clear benefits of using the dolls. . . . 14 carers felt that residents’ lives were a little better, and 32 felt that their lives were much better.

Benefits of doll therapy for Alzheimer’s

  • Reduces aggression and anxiety
  • Improves communication
  • Reduces wandering and agitated behavior
  • May reduce or even eliminate the need for certain medications

Benefits reported by the staff included a calming effect, reduction in wandering, increased communication and improved speech. Many of them expressed the opinion that the effect was the result of the individual now having a sense of purpose or focus. One caregiver said of a resident, “He’s a different man with a doll in his hand. I found out more about him—the tender side”.

I gave my dear Mother one of the dolls from “doll therapy” just a few months before we had to put her into full time care. The doll is the love of her life. It is the only thing she feels safe and comfort from and with. It is the only thing that she is able to talk to freely and love and nurture. She believes she is the doll’s grandmother and that the doll is real. She carries it everywhere with her and it’s beautiful to see that even though she is in the penultimate stage of vascular dementia, she is still able to display the loving and nurturing part of her nature that we all had the joy of receiving over her many years. Thank you. Kate

~ Kate – Sydney, NSW, Australia



Doll Therapy for Alzheimer’s — Not for Everyone

There are pros and cons to doll therapy for Alzheimer's

Ivy sucking her little thumb

The nurturing instinct is strong. This instinct is a big part of the reason that doll therapy is so effective, but it can lead to some problems that should be watched for when introducing dolls as therapy. In community settings, ownership issues have led to arguments between residents. Anxiety can result from dolls being mislaid. Family members of caregivers sometimes see the use of dolls as demeaning. The first two of these concerns can usually be minimized by recognizing their potential and by re-directing the residents’ attention if the problem arises and before it has had a chance to escalate. The problem of relatives’ concern is best addressed through education. Visiting relatives almost always have their loved-ones’ best interests at heart. Let family members witness the positive effect a doll is making on their loved ones quality of life. That is usually enough to win them over.

Other considerations: “Despite these positive findings, there had been some problems using the dolls, such as arguments between residents over ownership of dolls, residents trying to feed their dolls, and dolls being mislaid leading to distress. In addition, some staff working in homes felt that the dolls may be infantilising residents.²”
* We should repeat here that doll therapy is not for everyone. If you see that it is more problematic than beneficial, discontinue it in favor of some alternate non-pharmacological therapy.

Guidelines for Doll Therapy

Doll therapy (also known as baby doll therapy) is not for everyone. More women than men will choose a doll to nurture, but some men do benefit greatly from holding a doll, so don’t rule out doll therapy for the man or men in your care. Another option to the doll is a Teddy Bear or other stuffed animal. We have a selection of bears and other animals that provide aromatherapy and heat and cold therapy as well as the therapy provided by the act of nurturing. Our best-selling Twiddle Pup and Twiddle Cats, in certain cases, would even qualify for doll therapy.

Guidelines for providing doll therapy for Alzheimer’s disease

  • Choose a doll that is lifelike. One that looks like a real baby, is 15 – 20 inches long, and weighs 3 – 6 pounds will get a much better response and result than one that is smaller or unrealistic looking, or one that looks like an older child. This is not to say that other dolls can’t be effective, but our recommendation is evidence based¹.
  • We recommend a doll that represents an age from newborn to a year or so in age. Dolls that look like toddlers may work for some, but most people with dementia will connect better with a younger looking doll.
  • Do not hand a person a doll – people don’t like responsibility imposed upon them. Place the doll where it can be discovered, or hold it yourself. Allow the individual to choose the responsibility of caring for the baby.
  • Some people with dementia will think that the doll is a real baby. Others will know that it is just a doll, but love it just the same. Some will think it is alive one day, and know it is a doll the next. Be careful how you refer to the doll. If it has a name, refer to it by that name.
  • There are potential drawbacks to doll therapy. It is not for everyone with dementia. Until a bond is created between the individual and his or her doll, be alert to behaviors that may indicate that a connection will likely not happen. There are other therapies and activities that may suit that person better.

Introducing the therapy doll

It is important that a doll not be given directly to the person with Alzheimer’s disease. Rather it should be left somewhere, on a table or sitting in a chair, for example, somewhere that she will easily find it. This way the individual can make the choice to provide care for the doll, not feel that they are being given the responsibility to do so, which could cause anxiety or result in the doll being rejected.

For Doll Therapy to be effective, it is recommended that you use a doll that is as lifelike as possible. Introduce the doll in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, or even in an earlier stage, depending on the individual. Often when introduced later, the person fails to or has a more difficult time making a connection with the doll. Once the connection has been made, the rest is easy. It’s a self-administering therapy.

Doll therapy for Alzheimer's disease - Lil Peanut from our Cuddle Babies collection.

Lil Peanut! From our Cuddle Babies collection


Cuddle Babies

We offer a choice of several Cuddle Babies (see the picture at the top of this page). All are perfect for use in doll therapy for Alzheimer’s disease. Each doll is approximately 19 inches tall and weighs about three pounds, with a face that is both realistic and adorable. Each doll comes with suggestions for introducing the doll. Those instructions are also available on this page in Guidelines for Doll Therapy and we strongly recommend that you read these to get the relationship off on the right foot.


Stuffed Animals: An Alternative to Doll Therapy for Alzheimer’s

Realistic stuffed Cocker Spaniel dog
Teddy Bears and other stuffed animals offer an alternative to dolls for doll therapy. The stuffed animal alternative might be preferable for some men, and for family members who might object to a doll. Our stuffed animals look very much like the animals they are patterned after. We only carry a few breeds, but if you are looking for a particular one, a boxer or bulldog or a Bernese mountain dog perhaps, let us know. We can get over 100 different dogs and cats.


Related Research: Doll Therapy for Alzheimer’s

A study¹ reported in the Journal of Gerontechnology in 2001 actually used one of the Cuddle Baby dolls (pictured above). The study reported on the effects that dolls had on a group of people in a long-term care facility in Japan, most whom had dementia, and all who suffered from Sundowners syndrome. For the most part the dolls influenced behavior in a significant way; behavior classified as: “no reaction, close observation (of the doll), care giving, and communication with other patients.” There was a small group that seemed to be completely uninterested in the dolls, which reinforces our point that doll therapy is not for everyone.

The researchers described the affect caring for a doll had on one subject of the study:

We monitored the activities of an individual patient with and without intervention with (a doll). She took extensive care of the baby doll during the intervention period. However, in the absence of the doll, she became agitated and tended to wander around, while during doll intervention she was calm and gentle.

The study reinforces what we know, that for many people with dementia, doll therapy is a meaningful and effective intervention. A bonus is their finding that more realistic looking and feeling dolls were significantly better at soliciting positive responses, and our Cuddle Baby performed the best of three dolls used in the study!


Relevant research — doll therapy for Alzheimer’s disease

  1. Baby dolls as therapeutic tools for severe dementia patients; (2001).T. Tamura, K. Nakajima, M. Nambu, K. Nakamura, S. Yonemitsu, A. Itoh, Y. Higashi, T. Fujimoto, H. Uno; Gerontechnology Vol 1, No 2 (2001)
  2. Using dolls to alter behaviour in patients with dementia: (2007). Jenny Ellingford, BSc,; Ian James, PhD, MSc, BSc, C.Psychol; Lorna Mackenzie, RMN; Lisa Marsland, BSc, MSc. University.VOL: 103, ISSUE: 5, PAGE NO: 36-37


Related Posts
Dolls as Therapy for Dementia
I am always learning more about how dolls benefit people with dementia, and how to use dolls as therapy for dementia. I know that dolls work; that they often work wonders. I see for myself ...
Francesca Rosenberg leads people with Alzheimer’s and their caretakers in a discussion at the Museum of Modern Art.

~ Jason Brownrigg - Photograph courtesy of
Every now and then the news media reports on a new drug that is being tested as a way to treat Alzheimer's disease; that initial tests have had "promising results"; ...
Sensory Stimulation for Alzheimer’s
Providing appropriate sensory stimulation for Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia has been shown in recent studies to decrease agitation and restlessness, as well as improve sleep. These symptoms ...
Creating Art is strong alternative therapy for people who have a Alzheimer's disease.
Why art therapy for Alzheimer's? "A wealth of research has demonstrated that participation in creative activities promotes health and well being by stimulating curiosity and self-evaluation, by encouraging individuals to ...
Music Therapy for Alzheimer’s
Music is therapy for everyone, not just people who have Alzheimer's disease. I think that each of us has experienced, if not euphoria, at least a certain reverie while listening ...
Aromatherapy For Alzheimer’s
Can Aromatherapy help Alzheimer's disease? There has recently been an upsurge in attention over the use of aromatherapy for Alzheimer's disease. Several essential oils are proving effective for treating symptoms of ...
Reminiscing Over Old Photographs
It is a funny thing about Alzheimer's that memories are lost in reverse order; memories formed recently are more fleeting than those from many years ago. Alzheimer's disease starts in ...
Alzheimer’s Store
Thank you for your website. It made it easy to find something for me to send to my mother, for my dad. It made her feel included and important to ...
Visual Stimulation for Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Visual Stimulation – Aside from the brain, the eye is the most complex and incredible organ in the animal world. Vision is our most important sense, the one through which ...
Light Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease
Full Spectrum Lights for Better Sleep Sometimes simple therapies are the best. A good example is light therapy for Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia affect the brain in ...
Dolls as Therapy for Dementia
Alternative Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease
Sensory Stimulation for Alzheimer’s
Art Therapy for Alzheimer’s
Music Therapy for Alzheimer’s
Aromatherapy For Alzheimer’s
Reminiscence and Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Store
Visual Stimulation for Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Light Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease

About Author

Degrees in psychology and education as well as professional certifications in business administration and website development gave John the ideal credentials to co-found and develop an internet presence dedicated to helping caregivers provide exceptional care to those who are no longer able to care for themselves because of the impact of dementia. Since 2007, Best Alzheimer's Products has earned national and international recognition as a place to go for help and advice, with the goal of making life better for people living with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.


  1. Catherine Flynn on

    Dear John,

    Gorgeous dolls! Unfortunately you have forgotten about all us Canadians! I just tried to order one of your dolls and did not find Canada on the list for shipping estimates. Not to worry as I am afraid with the original price of the doll, the exchange rate, and the shipping charge would way over budget for any senior. Glad you are doing the work you are doing to help the elderly…. but ….if my opinion counts, you may want to try to lower your prices if you are sincerely trying to help seniors, who in this country have a monthly government income of approx. $1500 dollars (CDN) while some are living in long term care facilities costing $2500.00 to $5000.00 monthly….thank you and keep up the great work on helping those of us who have parents with Dementia!

    • Hi Catherine,

      Thank you for your comment and your suggestions.

      We have not forgotten about our neighbors to the north. Unfortunately, we are experiencing some software issues that don’t allow our store to calculate an accurate shipping cost to Canada. We are accepting phone orders from Canadian customers at our toll free number – 877/300.3021. We are working on the programming and we hope to be able to make our online ordering process available to Canada very soon.

      Yes, our expensive dolls are very expensive. They’re handmade and take many hours to complete. We do have therapy dolls in a wide range of prices. You can see all or our dolls at All of our dolls are realistic; of course, the higher the price, the better the realism. There is evidence that the more life-like dolls get a better response and are more therapeutic. And we have a broad range of prices on other products as well, from just a few dollars to the Serenity Baby dolls.

  2. would love to introduce this to homes in my area. going to get my mom involved first, she has dementia. is there a toolkit to take this into senior homes

  3. Pingback: Alternative therapy for Alzheimer's disease

  4. Faye Pedalina on

    Have you known the dolls to be used for a younger woman with an intellectual disability who has not experienced motherhood?

    • This is a very interesting question, Faye, and I don’t have a good answer for you. Nurturing does seem to be an instinct that is present in all of us, men and women, to one degree or another. I would guess it is generally stronger in women than in men, and strengthened in anyone who has raised children. There is a good chance that this woman will take to doll therapy and get some comfort from it, but I haven’t seen any research or reports that address this issue. Does this woman respond to pets? children? or even stuffed animals? These might be indicators of how well she would accept a doll. I suggest you borrow a doll and see how she reacts to it. Don’t give it to her, but leave it somewhere that she will find it. Her reaction to it should tell you what you need to know. Meantime, I am going to look for others who might have some experience in this.

      • Faye Pedalina on

        Thanks for that reply. Just to clarify, this young lady loves babies and animals very much but she has not shown any interest in regular dolls, teddy bears or stuffed animals. We will start as you suggest and leave a realistic looking doll around and see what she does.

  5. I work with Dementia patients and the Doll Therapy does very often work, I think it sometimes depends on how advanced the Dementia is

    • You’re right, Joan. Like almost everything else we talk about and recommend, how well it works depends on so many factors. Personality, stage, personal interests and history, etc. But when doll therapy works, it really works!

  6. I’m from the UK and “behaviour” is our way of spelling it 🙂 No idea where “behavior” came from, but it being British doesn’t explain it!

  7. I would love to actually learn how to do doll therapy, Can you point me in the right direction? I really love this idea


    • Hi Tassie – Doll therapy is different from some of the other alternative therapies that we discuss. Music and art therapies have curricula and special schools where the disciplines are taught.There are even certifications and degrees. It’s not the same with doll therapy, partly because doll therapy is relatively easy. We call it a self-administering therapy. If a person responds well to the introduction of a doll, all that is necessary is that you make a doll available. That’s pretty much it.The individual’s nurturing instincts take over – and that’s the therapy. It can be an amazing thing to see, however.

  8. Pingback: Doll Therapy: Dementia’s Newest Intervention in Nursing Homes — California Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

Leave A Reply